Mayor Q&A: Mayor Stiehm seeks to build on his experiencePublished 2:31pm Friday, August 10, 2012
Mayor Q&A: Tom Stiehm
Q. Why are you best qualified to be Austin’s mayor?
A. I feel that my background in the Marine Corps and 30 years as an Austin police officer has taught me how to work within a group towards common goals. Also, police officers must be able to resolve difficult issues. The mayor must be able to guide the council, and keep moving forward, the mayor must also deal with the many different personalities within the council and amongst citizens.
In my six years as mayor, I have learned much and this experience will help us to keep moving forward. I am also well aware of the difficult issues that will be facing the city in the future. We can’t wait until an issue hits us, we have to be proactive and start dealing with these issues now. Issues such as reformulation by the state of the way Local Government Aid will be disbursed to the individual cities. Austin recieves a large percent of our budget from LGA and we stand to lose much of this funding. I believe this will be one of the most important issues to face us in the next few years and we must be a part of the solution instead of just sitting back and being dictated to.
I also think it is very important to have a Mayor who can work with the council and keep things moving forward. We will of course have many differing views on a given issue, but I feel we must still work as a team towards common goals of keeping taxes as low as possible and providing the most value for the money we do spend. The council has worked very well together and has accomplished much in the six years that I have been mayor. This was accomplished by a council that has worked as a team.
Q. Should city officials be more open to hearing public input? If so, what would you do to bring that about?
A. This is an issue that we in city government face every day. I believe the people who represent Austin in city government want do do what their constituents want them to do. How can we get this information from our citizens? We constantly struggle with this issue. We have had forums, Coffee with the Council, ect. I know from meeting with other mayors and council people from around the state that this is an issue everywhere. I believe getting out and talking to people everyday has been the most beneficial to me. I also let people know that a phone call or even attending a council meeting seem to be the most effective ways of communicating with city officials.
Q. What should be the top three priorities for city government?
A. I think most people would tell us “taxes, taxes, taxes,” so taxes must be the number one priority. We have to continue to find ways to get more for our money. We must also learn to do things differently. People have tried for years to get the city to fund a park for dogs in Austin. About a year ago a group once again approached the city with the idea of a dog park, they were told that the money just was not there.
So the group, SPARKS, went out and collected money and material, and we now have a dog park at little or no city expense. Yes, we will have to maintain the park, but SPARKS has also said they will continue to help as much as they are able. Four years ago we figured a dog park would cost the city at least $50,000. When people approach me about the city supporting different things, I point out what the SPARKS group accomplished.
Q. What steps, if any, can city government take to minimize tax increases?
A. We have cut several city positions, and will continue to evaluate others as people retire, but we can only push our city workers so hard, so we must continue to seek other ways of working with other government entities, such as Mower County and Albert Lea and other cities in our area. Austin has been one of the first cities to come up with cost savings, such as insurance co-pay for city workers. We actually rank 224 out of 226 cities in Minnesota as far as per capita taxes. That means the people in 223 cities in Minnesota pay more per person in city taxes than we in Austin do. Of course that does not mean that we can get comfortable and sit back; no, we have to keep exploring new ways of doing things, and ways of keeping our taxes in check.
Q. What other issues do you believe the city of Austin must address, and how would you provide leadership on those issues?
A. I hate to keep saying taxes, but this the issue most people are concerned with. I believe we have to rethink how we govern. We all felt that when the economy went bad, it would only be a matter of time, and things would get back to the way they were. We now realize that we have to change the way we govern, we need to squeeze every dollar of taxpayer money, maybe do less in some area, and get people more involved in the solutions of our problems. We need to find out what people redly want, and then find the bast way of getting it. This may not always be the cheapest, but we don’t want infrastructure that falls apart in a few years.